Principled negotiation

Negotiating is an inherently complicated matter. The biggest problem that arises is that the parties involved tend to take either a hard or soft position, which creates an adversarial atmosphere. “Principled Negotiation”, a negotiation approach developed by Roger Fisher & William Ury, aims for a win-win outcome.

The first and foremost step is to separate the people involved from the problem being resolved. By recognizing that everyone involved has emotions and ego, negotiations can avoid becoming entangled with personal issues, allowing both sides to see the other parties’ position more clearly and opening clear communications. It is vital to focus on the underlying interests and motivations and not on the positions taken by the parties in order to prevent obfuscation of both sides’ true agenda. To get to “Win-Win” both parties should together brainstorm possible alternative solutions using strategies like broadening options and looking for those solutions offering mutual benefits to create a situation of true cooperation. To accomplish this, the use of mutually agreed upon, objective criteria is critical for analyzing possible solutions. The guiding maxim should be “right” principle rather than outcome pressure. Fair standards and fair procedures are of paramount importance.

Not all negotiations go smoothly, obviously. In situations where the other party holds the upper hand, it is beneficial to prepare a BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement) before negotiations begin to protect yourself against agreements that are unfair to you. This means setting a limit to what you will agree to ahead of time.

If the other party isn’t playing fair, there are 3 effective approaches to deal with them – (1) set an example by using principled negotiation yourself, (2) if the other party continues to use positional bargaining, avoid the “eye for an eye” attitude and instead redirect focus on the problem at hand, and (3) consult a third party to balance the views of both parties.

If the other party uses tricks such as lying or pressure tactics, instead of trying to appease them or retaliating in like fashion, employ a 3-pronged coping technique – (1) recognize the tactics being used against you (and ignore them), (2) draw attention to them, and (3) discuss the rules by which the negotiation must from that point on be conducted.

Practicing these methods outside of actual negotiations will train you to become proficient at recognizing and defending against dirty tactics. By so doing, a win-win agreement and more satisfactory results can be had in real-life negotiations.

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